Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Putin Moves to Combat ‘Complete Chaos’ in Russia’s Funeral Industry

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 7 – As Vladimir Putin prepares to run for re-election and is casting about for initiatives to suggest he is genuinely concerned about the Russian people, the incumbent Kremlin leader has now found an issue that ultimately affects everyone – the funeral industry, one that in Russia exists in what observers call “complete chaos.”

            But while Putin’s intervention may win him some support from increasingly hard-pressed pensioners who often do not have enough money for food and clothing let alone funeral expenses and who face a “gray” market that prays on them, his raising of this issue highlights just how serious a problem cemeteries and the burial industry now are.

            No one knows how many Russian cemeteries there are – the finance ministry puts the number at 80,000 but others say it is far larger – no one is certain who owns most of them, and no one has succeeded in blocking the expanding role of quasi-legal operators who take enormous sums from Russians at a most difficult time. 

            Into this mess, Putin has now inserted himself, Yekaterina Gerashchenko of Kommersant reports, pointing out that the Kremlin leader’s solution is to draft new laws and extend what he sees as the best practices of the state as exemplified by Moscow to the rest of the Russian Federation (kommersant.ru/doc/3377853).

            The journalist reports that Putin has sent a list of demands to the government calling for reforms. Among them would be to do an inventory of existing cemeteries, establish nation-wide rules for their exploitation, and create conditions so that Russians would be able to pay for internment with their pension insurance alone, rather than having to save on their own.

            To those ends, the Kremlin leader is calling for a new law – the current legislation governing cemeteries was adopted in 1996 and is outdated and regulations that would reduce the amount of spending on funerals and drive out the “gray” industry which extracts 120-150 billion rubles (2 to 2.5 billion US dollars) from Russians every year.

            That is on top of the 60 billion rubles (1 billion US dollars) various parts of the Russian government now spend.

            “In a majority of regions,” the Kommersant journalist says, there are no guaranteed services provided or even information given to the population about what it could do. “In every sixth region, there is not even a specialized service which could provide such support (often these functions are fulfilled by private business).”

            Still worse, there is no common price list or standards for caskets or other funeral expenses. As a result, some Russians have to or want to pay hundreds of times what others do for burial.   Andrey Chibis, the deputy construction minister with responsibilities in this area, says that today the situation in the funeral business in Russia is one of “complete chaos.”

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